At Zühlke, there’s a big emphasis on learning and upskilling. And it’s central to our culture and ethos. Every year, we organise Training Camps that last 3-5 days, and include workshops, training, team-building exercises and social activities. Because of COVID and the inability to meet physically, we hosted a series of virtual 2-days workshops instead this year.
Developing and investing in our people is central to our business strategy
So, when the pandemic struck, the question wasn’t whether we should continue learning programmes like the Camps – it was just a matter of how to continue.
We knew it would be hard to replicate the bonding and the immersive learning of the in-person Camps. But by staying true to our vision, we delivered a meaningful virtual series of workshops to accelerate the development of our people in new ways: We ran eight separate virtual sessions on Software Architecture, Team Collaboration, Data Science & Engineering, Project Management, Business Consulting, Software Development, DevOps and Experience, Product & Service Design. The virtual workshops, which were all organised and run by fellow colleagues who are experts in their field, were a great opportunity to learn from each other, bond with colleagues and build bridges between disciplines – which is where innovation often begins.
Meik, Director of the Competence Centre, who coordinated the entire series of virtual sessions and organised a session on Team Collaboration himself, said the workshops were especially important in this unprecedented year.
“We believe that people can learn a lot remotely, and our virtual workshops give employees a great opportunity to bond with colleagues across projects, learn from each other, build bridges between disciplines, and get inspired. It helps the company upskill employees for the following year's projects, and complements learning on the job in a safe environment.” he says.
The Data Capability workshop scaled across borders
The Data Science & Engineering workshop organised by Daphne, a Senior Data Scientist and Data Science Capability Owner, was an example of successful remote learning.
Part of Daphne’s job is to foster greater collaboration across the Zühlke Group’s data teams and to innovate in sustainability and healthcare.
“In the data science space, sustainability, energy and healthcare are key areas we want to target,” she says. “So this year, we invited external speakers from the energy and automotive industries to help us focus on these.” Speakers included pioneers from Porsche and New AutoMotive, a transport research company that aims to accelerate the uptake of electric vehicles in the UK.
Lydia Katsis, a PhD student and wildlife conservation researcher from the University of Southampton then gave a talk on acoustic monitoring for gunshot detection in tropical forests as a way to prevent poaching. She shared her data with workshop participants so they could team up for a case study and work on ways to classify audio snippets using machine learning techniques.
Does Daphne believe there’s value in the virtual workshops? “Absolutely. I think it was an excellent idea to combine training with working together in small groups,” she says, “I met new colleagues from Germany, Switzerland, Serbia and Austria, and we definitely inspired each other!” Daphne believes it also encouraged some participants to further upskill or even consider a change to data engineering and data science roles.
Daphne’s interests lie in the intersection between academia, industry, and research. She’s currently using spatial and statistical analysis techniques on client projects to extract insights from data. It’s clear that Zühlke’s broad client base and range of world-class clients provides a fertile working environment for a data scientist, especially if they’re open to learning fast.
A Leadership philosophy that encourages team members to take greater ownership
Meanwhile, Meik’s Team Collaboration workshop on intent-based leadership was inspired by a former US submarine captain, L. David Marquet, and his book ‘Turn the Ship Around!’. The workshop equips employees to take ownership and it encourages them to make decisions and to become better leaders.
Meik gives the example of one of his direct reports who wants to hire a project manager but is conscious of some skill gaps. Using intent-based leadership, the direct report learns how to take ownership of the decision. If they intend to hire the project manager, they will address the gaps as part of a plan for professional growth. Saying “I intend to...” demonstrates that they gave thought to the way forward and it lets them drive decision-making. Prerequisites for successful decision-making are clarity on the overall goals of an organisation, a unit or a team, as well as having the right level of competence. In the example that would be knowing the recruitment criteria and having the skills to assess and later develop candidates, respectively.
Already now, participants are applying this approach in their day-to-day activities. “People appreciate a more modern leadership style. Of course, it’ll be interesting to see how it develops in the mid and long term because it involves a mindset shift,” says Meik.
What lasting impact do the workshops have on employees?
Quintin , Software Engineer at Zühlke since 2017, values the opportunity to reflect on specific projects with his colleagues. "From analysing the way our clients work, we can identify opportunities for improvement in our workflows and in what we deliver,” he says. “For example, in Software Architecture we reflected on how different experiences have shaped us and how we move forward and do things differently, which was really important.”
For Quintin, these sessions are a huge part of what makes Zühlke special. Some past physical camps were life changing – one even inspiring him to use Agile processes to lose 40kg! He believes the virtual workshops are valuable and an important tool for strengthening employee morale during an especially hard year. The workshops also expose participants to new disciplines, with plenty of opportunities to cross-pollinate. “From an employee perspective, these camps show me that Zühlke cares about employees. It tells me they’re invested in my development and growth,” he says.
For Ioana, a Software Engineer who joined Zühlke in early 2020, the workshop experience was unlike any other training she’d experienced. What’s more, she discovered a newfound interest in Business Consulting, which she now intends to pursue. “The camps were really important for me and my professional development. And on the technical side, I learned new things, like Pact contract testing for APIs, which I can bring into my future project work,” she says. “Overall it was a really valuable experience that I’m truly grateful for.”
An investment in our future
A commitment to lifelong learning is the best investment a business – and an individual – can make. In a fast-paced, globalised market being able to adapt and reinvent yourself is key for a business’s success.
At Zühlke, we’re always searching for new ways to optimise learning. This year, we learned that virtual workshops are a powerful tool for collaboration and sharing knowledge. But the camps are just one example of our learning ethos, and we never stop evolving.